Photo: Flickr/Kevin Shockey
Microsoft has spun off a subsidiary just to deal with its work on open source software and standards.The new company is called Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc., and it will be run by Microsoft’s long-term open source advocate, Jean Paoli. The group will manage all the work that Microsoft does with standards bodies as well as the contributions Microsoft makes to open source projects.
Microsoft has had a stormy relationship with open source developers over the years — embracing open source in some ways and antagonizing its proponents in others.
The issue is open source licenses, which govern how the code can be used.
Some of them require that any code contributed to a project remain open source. And while that sounds fair, it gets crazy tricky for a company that owns so much proprietary software. Microsoft wants and needs some of its software to work with big open source projects, but it doesn’t necessarily want to give its software away to that open source community and never charge for that software again.
Legally separating Microsoft’s growing work with open source projects might be the reason for this new company.
Over the years, Microsoft has supported a lot of open source projects. Today, it contributes to a number of big ones including Hadoop, MongoDB, Drupal, Joomla and others.
It also contributes to Linux, mostly making its Hyper-V virtualization technology work with Linux. This helps it sell more Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 R2 licenses because servers can use that operating system and run Linux on a virtual machine.
Still, Microsoft isn’t 100% in love with open source projects that it competes with. It’s been a predator with Android, threatening device makers that use Android with patent infringement lawsuits if they don’t pay Microsoft royalties on all their Android devices.
So this new company may also help Microsoft separate its good work with standards and open source versus its legal fights, too.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has spun out open source resources into a separate organisation. A couple years ago, Microsoft started its own open source foundation, the OuterCurve Foundation (formerly CodePlex). OuterCurve includes a few other companies — including Red Hat — but is still mostly Microsoft’s baby. Over time OuterCurve’s mission has slowly changed from managing all of Microsoft’s open source projects to helping Microsoft’s developer partners work with open source software.
So now Microsoft has two legally separate entities dealing with open source.
Microsoft could not be reached for comment.